Bristol City Council’s Equality Commissions

This case study is an example of how city-wide commissions supported by the council and other stakeholders can make a difference.

Bristol’s commissions are strategic partnerships, and membership includes private, public and third sector organisations in Bristol. They are multi sector and include health, academia, media, legal firms, clinical commissioning groups and political representatives, amongst others. The Women’s Commission was established in 2012. It works to redress the inequality that exists between women, girls and men. The Commission on Race Equality was set up by the council in 2018 to redress inequalities that exist because of race and ethnicity. Both commissions support the council’s corporate objectives, its values and its Public Sector Equality Duty commitments.

Both commissions have an independent chair, recruited by the presiding mayor. Commission members are not paid, (but can claim expenses). The council provides a budget of £5,000 per year, which is match funded by other organisations who work in partnership with the commission.  

Impact and Output

The commissions work city wide and are aligned to grass roots organisations who are able to hear the voices of their respective communities. Qualitative and quantitative data is fed back into the commissions to support strategy formation and action planning. Annually, both commissions provide a progress report to full council. Last year the Women’s Commission annual report received really positive reviews in the press, and in response to the challenges that Covid-19 brought, the commission wrote a report entitled ‘Delivering an Inclusive Economy post Covid’ which has been distributed to businesses and the West of England Combined authority to consider. 

Each commission meets bi-monthly to progress their annual action plan. The Women’s Commission has four task groups: Women and Safety, Health, Education, Women in Business & Women in the Economy.  

The Commission on Race Equality’s task groups are: Health and Well Being, Education, Employment, Enterprise & Engagement with Communities. The commission is currently setting objectives for 2021/2022 but work undertaken last year is detailed in their annual report to full council.

Over the last two years the Women’s Commission has worked in partnership with the Government Equalities Office who funded two major projects in Bristol. One was to hear the voices of women in deprived communities and the other to support the celebrations that took place to remember 200 years since women were given the right to vote. In 2017 the Women’s Commission campaigned for a women’s section in the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment for Bristol, and this is the first time in the UK this has taken place. In 2019 the commission was influential in launching the Women in Business Charter, an idea from the Women in Business subgroup.

The Race Commission spearheaded a police and community relations project to improve trust with the police and black communities in Bristol. The events were called It Takes a Village. With Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities’ being disproportionality stopped and searched, the commission felt this concern needed to be addressed.  This group has also fed into the government’s Lammy Review task force set up to address the over representation of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities in the criminal justice system. It also improved relations between the city council’s Education Department and minority ethnic communities who have not seen an increase in attainment for some Black, Asian, Minority and Ethnic communities, by setting up a programme entitled The Race in Education Equality Group. Senior Bristol City Council officers, and the cabinet member with responsibility for education and skills, and the Director of Education and Skills attend meetings.


A major challenge was ensuring that the right people were on both commissions. The Women’s Commission chose to write to key organisations in the city inviting them to work on the commission, who in turn sent a representative to sit on the commission and report back to their organisation. The Race Commission went out to advert and recruited commissioners by interview asking for skills and knowledge as eligibility to gain a place on the commission.

Another challenge was shaping the strategy for the commissions.  Giving grass roots community organisations access and opportunity to voice their opinions to the commissions about what needed to be changed and why was really helpful in deciding next steps. Bristol Women’s Voice work closely with the Women’s Commission and Black South West Network work closely with the Commission on Race Equality to crucially hear the voice of citizens. 

Finding the right level of infrastructure support was another challenge. Both commissions receive the same level of strategic and business support from the council. Initially, this support was in kind but this changed over time as the demands of the commissions changed and they became organisations in their own right (albeit not legally), and not just ones that were dictated to by the council.  Each commission has an infrastructure organisation that sits alongside it which has propelled both organisations to make the impact that they have.

The council funded both commissions with seed money, and it was an issue at first to know how the commissions would survive but the in-kind support from partners quadruples the amount of money the council commits annually. It is now a requirement that commissions bring in match funding.

Key Learning Points for Others

  • committed support from the city council ’s strategic political and officer leaders has been critical to the success of both commissions. The commissions feed into the strategic equality and inclusion governance structure including the executive senior leadership team.
  • the importance of co-production from different sectors and industries in Bristol and nationally
  • the impact of volunteering and in kind of support has made these commissions formidable with dynamic outputs
  • the buy in from organisations in the city with a common agenda
  • the scale and spread of city initiatives have been most impactful
  • the importance of working strategically and operationally to make an impact with partners
  • having a mix of skills, knowledge and reach to tackle inequality

Council contact

Cherene Whitfield – Programme Manager in Equality Team: [email protected]